Thursday, July 23, 2015

QUK Releases Strategic Plan

by Jamie Cash and Abby Whiteley

The Quidditch Post would like to thank QuidditchUK for giving us early access to its strategic plan document before its release, allowing us to bring this coverage to you in a timely fashion. We appreciate this opportunity and look forward to continuing our close ties with QuidditchUK as we move forward.

In response to the incredible growth of quidditch internationally and in the United Kingdom, a strategic plan has been released by QuidditchUK (QUK) detailing its objectives and intentions for the next three years. It has been in development since January 2015 and was created by the Executive Management Team with input from the community through several focus groups. Read through the full 78-page document in its entirety on the QUK website, and read on as the Quidditch Post explores the pros and cons of its intended changes and take a deeper look at how quidditch may be evolving in the UK.

The plan is split into seven categories:
  • Membership
  • International Relations
  • Events
  • Officials
  • Leadership and Management
  • Regional Development
  • Communication and Community

It is derived from the community’s views as expressed in an initial survey, and each specific focus group; minutes from these focus groups are included in the document. QUK decided to further separate its targets and order them by playing season, which seems like an appropriate way to ensure realistic and immediate goals do not get lost amidst big dreams in the not-so-distant future.

It seems QUK has its sights set on expansion, with a target of 1,800 individual members by the 2017-18 season. It also looks to be encouraging clubs to establish second teams as it aims for 50 clubs comprised of a total 60 teams by then as well. One particular incentive is a reduced membership fee per team for each club, which we expand on later. The most immediate aim for this membership policy is a target 1,000 paying members by August 2017. As of 23rd July 2015, QUK currently has 693 paying members, so this does not seem out of reach, although whether the projected growth of 400 new members each year after that can be sustained remains to be seen.

We hope this growth is attainable, but with most publicity and recruitment responsibilities resting solely with individual clubs, we expect QUK will be handing out some advice or guidelines if it wants to push for big growth. Whether clubs will take well to this guidance or insist on autonomy remains to be seen. Achieving significant growth will also rely on establishing clubs at more universities-- a feat not easily achieved without contacts. QUK will have to make real effort to maximise its visibility in the media if it intends to reach out to more of the general public.

There is also an intention to reduce the individual’s monetary contribution in favour of maximising event revenue; we doubt anybody will object to this. As with any new sport, quidditch necessarily demands some level of financial investment from anyone involved, and so we are pleased to see QUK has it in its plan to minimise this. This, along with some further benefits (what they are calling “soft” benefits) such as resources and workshops, will no doubt help to grow the member base. However, people may remain unconvinced of these benefits’ usefulness until these materials are available to peruse or attend, as they have hitherto been of limited availability (for example, the membership cards had a limited distribution, and no refereeing or snitching resources have thus far been made widely available by QUK).

International Relations
On the international relations front, we are met with what looks to be a concerted effort to more actively support Quidditch Europe and the International Quidditch Association (IQA). Prior to now, QUK has kept a moderate distance from many international affairs in an effort that looked to be keeping decision-making central and timely, but now we see that it believes in moving forward with increased engagement. It is likely that this stems from faith placed in Quidditch Europe’s commitments to becoming better-organised and more transparent following the appointment of Rebecca Alley as Executive Director. Or perhaps this kind of international engagement is merely a requirement and QUK’s efforts will be less than vigorous. Whichever is the case, we are hopeful that the community will be best served by this new direction.

There is intention to maintain strong affiliation with the International Referee Development Program (IRDP), and we do not imagine any complaints being raised over this. However, no specific announcements have been made about which rulebook QUK intends to use beyond 2016, or indeed where its priorities lie regarding the consistency of international rules. This is likely due to the future of the rulebooks being uncertain at this stage, and it will be interesting to see what this means for gameplay in the upcoming seasons.

Next comes a discussion of events with an intended minimum of six official events held each year by the 2017-18 season. As this includes regional championships and British Quidditch Cup (BQC), this does not actually look to be a particularly ambitious aim when we consider that, as it stands currently, events hosted by any team can become official if they follow certain guidelines. Instead, we expect the title of official to be reserved for events organised by QUK itself in which case six is now looking like a curious choice. Browsing further ahead in the Strategic Plan, we find that by 2018, there will be four regions across the UK, meaning four qualifying regional championships as opposed to two. That just leaves one spot to fill, and QUK suggests it will be a summer event. Will we be seeing a new QUK designed, implemented, and managed summer event appearing in the near future?

If you are a new team looking for guidance on equipment, QUK aims to be officially endorsing some standard by the 2017-18 season, though we do not yet know what this standard will be. No doubt, existing teams will continue to play with whatever equipment they prefer regardless of an officially endorsed standard. However, it is likely that official events will have an enforced policy so we just hope it will be more widely appreciated than that implemented at BQC 2014-15.

Also stated is QUK’s intent to provide increased financial and organisational transparency, both of which matter greatly to the community. Increased medical support in line with new event policies regarding health and safety should also ease worries amongst the community, although it is unclear exactly what medical provision will be demanded of QUK official tournaments.

In line with its efforts to reduce cost to the individual, QUK is now aiming for these events to make up 25 percent of overall annual revenue. Except, as a free-to-spectate sport in the UK, money can only come from the community anyway without the aid of sponsorship—an endeavour that the organisation must deem to be of lesser importance as it does not appear at all in the Strategic Plan.

We are pleased to see that QUK is fully committed to growing the number of referee-certified members. It is aiming for 160 referees with some level of certification by the 2017-18 season, approximately double the current number (under Rulebook 8). There is probably little it can actually change to encourage new referees to become certified other than simply putting more pressure on teams, but the organisation is certainly planning to improve the experience for those who are already set on becoming certified. Payment for referees is not discussed in the Strategic Plan because payment is dictated exclusively by the decisions of the IRDP. For this reason, we cannot say that payment is a particularly strong incentive, as it currently stands at £8 per match for Head Referees only.

QUK intends to provide a number of resources including mock tests and standardised referee and snitch training academies. Growing the numbers is a definite pro for scheduling but will only positively impact gameplay if no one is left behind in its training. QUK will have to work closely with the IRDP to ensure that a qualified referee equates to a good referee. However, the move toward the standardisation of referee and snitch training provision is an encouraging one, even if the details are yet to be ironed out.

Leadership and Management
This is where most of the major changes are to be found. At this point, we move away from what QUK plans to do externally, and we focus on the internal changes in structure that we will be seeing. The Board of Trustees will gradually be expanded from the current three seats—these being President, Vice President and Financial Director—to six following the election of community representatives. This will no doubt bring with it more accountability; QUK states that 50 percent of the seats on this board will be filled by elected members of the community by August 2018. Seats will ultimately be held for a three year term (preceded by one and two year terms), which, so far as we can tell, should be an appropriate length of time to ensure well-implemented decisions whilst also ensuring that the best person is making them. This disparity in term-length found across the yearly goals presents an issue of when each seat will be elected. Clearly it would make sense to fill them all in one big election, but an immediate implementation of a three year term could introduce problems if the exact role of the board changes and representatives are deemed to be less fit for the position than another candidate, a problem well-managed by single year terms. We expect QUK will need to make a swift decision so as to minimise these issues.

We have also noticed that by this date, three positions will be paid—these being President, Vice President, and Financial Director (this, of course, comes with the proviso that it is financially viable). QUK intends to start paying the President and Vice-President by August 2017 and the Financial Director by August 2018. This will be preceded in the 2015-16 season by “significant stipends” to the President and Vice-President, most likely covering travel expenses. For the purposes of comparison, we note that US Quidditch (USQ) provided $21,000 in travel expenses the year before salaries were paid although travel is significantly easier in the UK. On one hand, these expenses may seem odd when team fees are being raised; on the other, it is somewhat mitigated by the fact that when you look at the numbers, team fees are no worse than they were before. Previously they were £40 per team without an entry to a tournament; now, they are £60 for a one-team club and £95 for a two-team club, but this includes entry to one of the regional championships, so teams are better off overall.

We think it is unlikely that people filling these three paid positions will be found within that 50 percent of electable seats, as QUK appears to subscribe to the belief that only those who have had the experience are in a position to judge who will be best suited to the job. One chooses one’s successor, as it were. Or in the case of these positions, the Board of Trustees chooses. The justification for paying these positions is likely to be in recognition of the amount of time it takes up, as well as the possible hope of getting external experts to come in and run it. Whether this will be well-received by the community remains to be seen.

Efforts to put a single community representative on the board for USQ were largely unsuccessful, but by aiming for a 50 percent elected board, we think QUK may have better luck. A single member on a large board lacks influence but the structure the organisation is looking to achieve should have a positive impact on the direction this NGB will be headed.

QUK intends to hold an annual Leadership Conference to encourage the growth of leadership and share resources across clubs. Most likely this will be more inspirational than of practical importance as there already exists an ongoing dialogue in the community.

One longstanding discussion in the community is that of how to move forward in legitimising the sport. QUK has set a goal of 2020 for becoming Sports England-recognised, a process that, it states, is now being set in motion. Financial and organisational stability has long been the major obstacle to achieving this, so we hope that with this Strategic Plan comes a strong foundation upon which it can progress. However, if it does discover down the line that any of these big changes proposed are not working out, further reorganisation will considerably delay this achievement. British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) is another intended form of recognition though initiation of this process is only set to follow the completion of Sports England recognition in 2020.

Regional Development
As already stated, by 2018, there will be four distinct regions across the UK. This has interesting implications, especially for the North. As it stands, the North/South divide leads to a strong concentration of teams in the South compared to the North. Not only does this new development imply a significant upcoming growth—an obvious goal for a developing NGB such as this—but it indicates a solid investment in the development of a real competitive infrastructure beyond what currently exists. Hopefully we will see an ordered progression from regional to national to international competition in a manner more befitting a competitive sport.

Infrastructure can be developed outside of qualifying tournaments as growth in the UK will lead to vast concentration due to the small geographical size. The introduction of four independently functioning regions would give the regional directors far more opportunity to develop infrastructure in their own region, with a narrow focus which would facilitate growth, rather than trying to fumble with large and disparate regions. No doubt we will see further capitalisation on easy transport links and an increase in the number of inter-team matches played each season. However, it is unclear exactly how these regions will fall. With the South already heavily populated, and, presumably, the far North ultimately constituting its own region, this leaves the Midlands as a third viable region. This is not problematic in its own right, but it does invite speculation as to what will happen with the Welsh. Their situation is ambiguous even now, and it will be interesting to see where the propagation of teams in the UK leaves the Welsh teams.

QUK also plans to kickstart the Hooch Initiative once more with three new phases: 2.0 to 4.0 in consecutive seasons. We have yet to see details of what these initiatives will involve, whether further resources will be created and distributed to aid parent clubs or whether this will all be community-led and driven as before. We expect the recent appointment of Teams Director Andy Cooke may have slowed the development of said details and more information will be made available soon once his handover process is complete.

Communication and Community
We finish with QUK’s plans for improving Communication and Community. Just as we have seen with Quidditch Europe, QUK has transparency and effective communication as significant goals. Its aim to provide an archive of publicly available minutes, within two weeks of the meetings held, by August 2016 seems like an appropriate goal, though one we note the IQA still has difficulty with. If transparency and communication is an issue for the community, we expect QUK will be under significant pressure to implement and sustain an appropriate structure in order to provide this as soon as possible. An archive of annual budgets will be made available at the end of each season on request by August 2016 and publicly available by August 2018. We expect the community will appreciate this level of financial transparency, although there might be demand for it to come earlier.

It should become easier for members of the community to have their voices heard as there will also be monthly Open Office Hours held with the President, Vice President, and another member of the Executive Management Team. We expect this will aid quicker responses to queries and bring about a more connected community in the UK.

With the exception of some of the leadership decisions, the majority of the strategic plan is uncontroversial. It is pleasingly comprehensive although it is clear that QUK has a long way to go to ensure that the details of proposed initiatives are ironed out. The majority of the proposals are the result of common sense decisions, focused on getting more people involved, developing infrastructure, and, overall, continuing in much the same direction that QUK has been taking for the past three years. We do not expect this to be the end of all this planning, nor do we expect every target proposed to be met unimpinged. However, we feel that QUK has taken excellent steps toward ensuring a prosperous future for quidditch in the UK.

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